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have intimate relations. The "period," or unit of verse-measurement, is the live organism in which these elements unite. Henceforward-passing from statement to verification of principles-we shall be able to deal with the period as a whole. Analysis of details, unsatisfactory at best, because separating what is really conjoined, will have done its work if it teach us to recognize in union what we have studied in isolation. The various elements we have been considering combine and conspire to make a living reality of English verse.
DUPLE METRE (GENERAL)
TIME, Accent, and Quantity have been seen to be the chief influences shaping our verse; but (since time and quantity are the same thing when predicated of syllables) its actual units may be better described as affected by Accent, Quantity, and Pause. Equality of time-measure underlies all, the ultimate reality, the essential basis. But "periods" are occupied by words, which form the malleable material handled by our poets. Greater or less intensification of syllables; their comparative bulk and substance; their occasional omission and replacement by an interval of silence; these are the leading facts of which it seems necessary to take account. English verse consists of rhythmical units, made and coloured by the working of these factors. Such is the conception arrived at in previous chapters, which it remains to test by further comparison of instances. Prosody knows no other test. No one can tell beforehand how English verse should be written; we can determine only how it has been written. This does not imply that poets are impeccable; but it implies that their practice is the sole court of proof. Rules must be deduced from observation; theory must never outrun experience.
It would have well for English metrical science had this truth been always remembered.
The only observation of other than analytical import made in previous pages relates to the number of syllables in a period. We have seen that in some cases two syllables seem normally to occupy a period, in other cases more than two; a fact probably due to, or at least closely connected with, the limit of accentual monopressure. This fact shall be our starting point, and no better could be chosen. For it leads to recognition of the most important general distinction in English metre. This distinction is so vital, and so far-reaching, that it may be said to swallow up most minor differences. Naturally, therefore, it has to do with time. We have two leading types of verse, in one of which the time-space or unit represents the normal time of two syllables, in the other that of three. This initial distinction corresponds to the musical division of time into duple and triple.1
The validity of this distinction has indeed been questioned. Guest, criticising Mitford, objects that were it real we should find it more clearly marked in earlier than in later verse. This seems curious reasoning. On the contrary, one would naturally expect the two types to be but imperfectly distinguished in our primitive literature, and gradually differentiated as our poetry developed. That is what really happened. It
1 Common and triple are the usual terms, but the above refers only to one branch of common time, and that, I believe, is correctly described by the word duple.
2 As before, p. 161.
was long before the two were clearly separated and classed as different genera. Duple-time verse, being the more consonant to our speech-habit, was for long considered practically our one form of metre. The other was detached from it by degrees and with difficulty. Nine-tenths of our whole verse, at a rough guess, moves to duple time; to it, therefore, our first attention is due.
But another objector will ask "How do we know the time of two syllables?" The absolute time they take to utter we of course do not know; it may vary with every speaker. All we know, or need to know, is their relative time. Ruskin indeed, in a singular passage,1 desired that "the time of metres [i.e., periods] should be defined positively no less than relatively"; but this seems as impossible as it would be useless. Time, in this context, means proportional and relative time. To say we do not know time in this sense would destroy the foundation alike of music and metre. No faculty seems more widely diffused than this. Children and savages usually possess it, and delight in its exercise. If anyone be really destitute of this sense-if the difference between duple and triple time has no meaning for him-then on such a person the cadence of verse would probably be found altogether thrown away.
Thus understood the distinction seems as real as it is universally intelligible. What we are required to know is not "the time of two syllables," but merely the time-beat to which two syllables are marshalled. The syllables do not create the time, and we have yet 1 "Elements of English Prosody" (1880), p. 5.
to see what precise relation they bear to it. Dealing with syllables exclusively, English metrists have come to some very strange conclusions about our verse, which are reflected in popular terminology. Before going further, let us see whether these will bear examination. The questions raised affect the nature as well as names of our chief rhythms, so must be dealt with on the threshold of any investigation. They involve, it need hardly be said, a passing reference to the chief types of Greek or Latin verse.
Classic metre had "feet" of two and of three syllables. Their names are transferred to our prosody, but with a difference, accent being made the basis instead of quantity. One objection to doing so has been incidentally pointed out,' but a far stronger remains to notice. As applied, these names are at once meaningless and mischievous. An "accentual foot" is a contradiction in terms. Accent no more creates a "foot" than the colour of a peach makes it round. The transference is meaningless, or at best metaphorical, and might be allowed to pass were the metaphor harmless. But in practice it is far from innocuous. It leads people to assume, naturally enough, though irrationally, that the time of an English unit agrees with that of its supposed prototype. No greater mistake could well be made.
Demonstration of this can scarcely be forthcoming, since we have no positive record of time. Strong confirmation, at least, may be drawn from admitted characteristics in each case. To Greeks and Romans dactylic was a weighty, sonorous, regular measure, 1 Ante, p. 18.